Zoe Boëkbinder presents a challenge for a reviewer. Most times when you first listen to music, you sift through a mental catalog of musicians to make comparisons. Though some of these comparisons are perhaps overly contrived ("he sounded like a cross between Mick Jagger and Cab Calloway"), a writer can evoke a musical idea in the reader, hopefully intriguing a reader into checking out a deserving musician.
I had difficulty finding artists to compare to her, so perhaps I should just say it simply: Boëkbinder is the Queen of Quirk. She cites influences as diverse as Amanda Palmer in The Dresden Dolls and Elvis. Her sound on Darling Specimens is unique, mixing beats and live instrumentation with subtle elan; she refers to it as "geek glam," which I love.
"Make A Mess" is the song that convinced me to review the album and a strong place to start. Though just 2:24 long, it’s blessedly catchy, with a bright horn section and percussive momentum that bubbles up with effervescent force. It hits me in the same place as Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine; it’s my new "early morning, bounce and go" song. Her groove is undeniable.
Boëkbinder makes good use of both ends of her voice, most especially when she warbles high into the oddly fragile part. This is shown off beautifully in "Hollow Bones," a duet with the high, eerie wail of a musical saw that sings in its own voice.
I could describe her lyricism as wry whimsy. Because there are no lyrics in the liner notes, I was forever scanning back to make sure she said what I thought she said. Much of her songwriting had the taste of a razor-filled éclair: sweet and fluffy with a cutting edge. In "Serrated Spoon," she sings “I’ll fill jars with formaldehyde and put those parts of you inside.”